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TAC Bookshelf for the Week of June 11

Scott Beauchamp [1], contributor: In my ongoing quest to read everything by Byung-Chul Han that’s ever been translated into English, I recently finished Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese [2], which strikes me as unique in his oeuvre. Most of Han’s work exists unambiguously in the universe of Western philosophy and presents itself as a critique of Western society. But Shanzhai (a Chinese neologism for “fake”) bridges the divide between Occidental thought and Far Eastern – mostly Chinese – philosophy. Or, really, it explains the divide, which centers around the question of Being and authenticity. It really is as complicated as it sounds, and I’m still slowly digesting it, but this paragraph summarizes the rift fairly well:

“…Far Eastern thought begins with deconstruction. Being as a fundamental concept of Western thought is something that resembles only itself, and that tolerates no reproduction outside of itself. Plato’s banishment of mimeses is a direct result of this conception of Being. According to Plato the beautiful or the good is something immutable that resembles only itself. It is monomorphic (monoeides). Thus it allows no variation. In every reproduction, this notion of Being sees something demonic that destroys original identity and purity. The notion of the original is already outlined in the Platonic Idea. A lack of Being is inherit in every picture. By contrast, the basic figure in Chinese thought is not the monomorphic, unique Being but the multiform, multilayer process.”

A concrete example of these two ways of thinking playing out in the real world is the oldest (roughly 1,300 year old) Shinto temple in Japan, which was at one point classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, having the honor eventually rescinded after Western officials discovered that the temple was basically rebuilt from scratch every 20 years. It wasn’t “authentic” to them. But to the Japanese faithful, it was more authentic than if the temple had been allowed to age in place. The refurbished temple was more true to the original notion or purpose of the temple. There is some correlation here between Chesterton’s repainting of the fence post and the spirit of conservatism, but I’m still sorting it all out in my mind.

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